On the Harper Valley PTA, you’ve got the married Bobby Taylor asking for dates, teetotaler Shirley nipping the gin, Miss Jones cavorting, Mr. Baker’s secretary having to leave town, and that other fellow drinking too much at Kelly’s bar. But their Peyton Place lifestyles made it ridiculous they were upset with Mrs. Johnson’s short skirts and she socked it to them!
It’s a good song written a long time ago and yet that current still flows strong. Those PTA-types saying one thing and doing another are all around. I think more of them wear one political stripe than the other, but we can agree on this: there’s too many of these sorts. Too many people think they have a view or opinion that matters is the problem. Everyone fancies themselves a Buckley or Cronkite when, at best, they’re just a new breed of that guy at the company picnic who won’t shut up.
The Coast Guard is a little like this; it pitches hard about boating safety but in my experience in the water-logged trenches, this agency fails to conduct meaningful investigations and issue timely investigative reports. (Sure, when the halogen glare of the public highlights an El Faro-type incident, things get done but what about when that young commercial fisherman dies by entanglement aboard a lobster boat? Where you at then? ‘Cause the years pass and it’s all crickets and no returned calls.) In the last couple of years of my office trying to get simple documentation from the Coast Guard via Freedom of Information Requests, it’s just frustration and a tally of phone calls. Heck, recently the Coast Guard failed to even identify the name of the lead investigator on a drowning death claim. What? You tell me you’re investigating and give me some tracking number and a URL to visit, but all the witnesses I talked to never heard a peep from you after the initial incident. In my opinion, the Coast Guard could dramatically improve commercial vessel safety, but it succumbs to internal politics and the pressure of private industry. (It’s an opinion. If you know or think different, tell me. Money says, no one replies because I’m right!)
These are tough words for me to write because the Coast Guard is a favorite of mine. It does great rescue and recovery work requiring a ton of commitment, but its investigative side is a festering sore that needs the antiseptic of daylight. Issue a report. Take ownership of your factual findings. Do your job.
If you think I’m asking too much, visit the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s videos on YouTube. This agency does an amazing job of creating animations of incidents leading to deaths and injuries, with root cause considerations and lessons learned. If this approach could be applied to the commercial vessel industry (particularly the fishing industry) it’d absolutely lead to a safer working environment.
And here’s another thing I fault the Coast Guard for…its Rules of the Road. I’ve whipped this issue into a froth in my earlier writings so I’ll keep it short. I get the Coast Guard can’t quickly amend or supplement the Rules, but where’s the Marine Safety Alert or Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (“NVIC”) addressing the tons of kayaks that paddle through channels oblivious to havoc they’re causing? Where’s the NVIC addressing sailboats that are whipping around at plus-thirty knots? Where’s the NVIC addressing some of the problems associated with reliance on electronic charts? Where’s the NVIC on the injury potential from encountering wakes? Where’s the interest in grabbing these issues by the bowrail? What – is it that hard to keep whistling we should wear PFDs while tapping out another tune? (And you can act quickly when you want: for example, it took you about a week to issue a Marine Safety Alert on lithium battery charging following the highly publicized burning and sinking of the dive boat in California in 2019.)
And here’s another, why in sweet-marie does the Coast Guard seem to let commercial vessel owner/operators slide when they don’t get their drug and alcohol testing done post-incident or when they fail to submit a Report of Marine Casualty? Isn’t that a fat warning sign of a company not paying attention to safety? Shouldn’t you be getting up like Will Smith and letting these companies have it?
I’m not looking to sock it to the whole Coast Guard – but to a certain (important) aspect. No one can fault its rescue and recovery efforts and (the little known) efforts the Coast Guard exhibits in far-flung locales/military zones. Again, I like so much of what it does. But I have this wee soapbox and maybe someone reading this has an inside line and can help nudge things back on course. I know, big thoughts for a small column, but it’s better than whining on social media, right?
Changing gears, my teenage daughter sails across the Atlantic this June aboard her school’s sailboat. Don’t indict our parenting; it’ll be fine and she knows what she’s doing. She’s a funny duck that does well when the pressure and stress are ratcheted-up; I guess acorns don’t fall far from the tree. Anyway, proud of her wanting to do the trip.
Finally, and lest there’s any confusion, I’m team Chris Rock.
This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies. Underway and making way. ■
John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.